One of the most common problems with scholarship dealing with African history is that it is usually limited to countries with purported richer historical significance and does not include cities. Moreover, on those occasions when the entire country receives the attention of a scholar, the product is often from the perspective of a western scholar and makes no effort to understand the significance and influence of any particular city. The results of such scholarship are often disappointing because it fails to recognise the significance of the region as a historic meeting place where cultures were fused and new economies were created. A Geocritical Representation of Banjul (Bathurst) 1816- 2016 takes up the challenge of responding to the lack of scholarship on African city by providing a lens through which readers are able to view the dynamism of a vibrant city from colonial period to present.
Can you imagine The Gambia without Banjul?
The poet TS Eliot was fascinated with urban places – settings of intense excitement, great mystery, and striking human diversity. This fascination with cities from the literary perspective is also represented in A Geocritical Representation of Banjul (Bathurst) 1816-2016. Gomez and Ceesay undertake an ambitious work crossing disciplinary boundaries and use literary representation of space to weave the historical legacy of Bathurst. The book makes a clear statement that to understand the formation of Banjul (Bathurst), it is important to understand the stages of development from early urbanisation, the formation of political parties, religion and education, sanitation and design of the city, to the changing urban demographics within its urban space. No doubt, the book is a timely contribution, especially within the context of what we have recognized, problematically perhaps, as the hyper urbanisation of African cities.
The introduction and the chapters collected in this book are an important read. Dr Pierre Gomez and Hassoum Ceesay as editors of the book have written theoretically challenging pieces which present an articulate framework for the subsequent rich chapters by scholars from various disciplines. The organisation of A Geocritical Representation of Banjul (Bathurst) 1816-2016 allows the reader to easily follow the evolution of a city. The book is divided into nine chapters. The first chapter establishes the authors approach to the city’s history by examining the struggles for possession of Banjul (Bathurst) by the English and French. For instance, Penel’s reflection is based on historical data that traces the urbanisation process of the city from planning and design, growth in commerce, education as well as demographics of inhabitants. Penel was able to provide a vivid imagery of Bathurst and how the city was viewed by both the French and the English. Readers are able to see a bustling city, yet a city that was froth with tensions between two waring colonial masters.
In Chapter two, Liza Gijanto reveals a deep knowledge and understanding of the impact of colonialism on the development of urban centers. Her work seeks to explain some of the most intangible elements of trade and how the growth of trade impacted the lives of the liberated people of the city of Bathurst. The reader sees the establishment of classism as liberated residents who excel in trade separate themselves from other residents of the city. The social construction of class and the establishment of social stratification of residents is a legacy of the boom in trade and the abolition of the slave trade.
Hassoum Ceesay builds upon the theme of the urbanisation process set by Giant by providing of the role of chiefs and traditional rulers in the political landscape of the city. The chapter provides statistical representation of the growth of the city as well as the problems that are associated with the massive movement of people from the rural areas into the urban core of Bathurst.
Subsequent chapters follow the trajectory of the growth of the city cumulating into the 200-year anniversary of the existence of the city. Chapter four weaves the strategic and historical narrative of Bathurst by pivoting from the past to the present as development changed the social, cultural, economic and political fabric of the city. Here, we learn of the constraints in developing public policies and urban development. Following theme of development, Saidykhan and Fanneh did an in-depth analysis of the formation and development of political parties. What makes this chapter interesting is that the authors also took up the challenge of exploring the challenges and limitations faces by these political parties during the early day of the development of the country and by extension the city.
The final chapters of the book move the reader closer to the modernisation and development of politics, education, health care (sanitation), and the growth of the literary space which provided a means to question the governance of the newly minted independent country. Cherno Barry hacked on the development of education in the early day of the city and the central role it played in developing the critical mass of the city. He was able to seamlessly link and show how religion and education informed each other. Sanitation played and continues to play a huge part in the politics of the city. Chapter nine lay out for the reader the history of sanitation and how human waste was treated and how this led to the spread of disease during this time period. This piece was important because the issue of environmental waste continues to be an issue for the residents of the city.
Although it is hard to claim that this work presents the current knowledge of Banjul (Bathurst), the chapters complement each other in illuminating the amazing growth of the city and its pressing issues. This is because the authors offer the reader a solid analysis of the political, cultural, economic and social history of Bathurst, and their insights are applicable to a broad spectrum of other cities in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Gomez et al offers readers some of the best scholarship on the history of Bathurst and their insights into the city are a valuable contribution to the field. For the first time, we have the first book on a city that was formed two hundred years ago. What this book has done for Gambia is open the door for further research. The book will leave you wanting more and asking more questions about the city. For example, are there situations among Banjulians where ethnicity takes precedence over class, and if so, what does this tell us about Banjul in general? Other question like how has sanitation impacted Banjul? How did the formation of the early political parties shape the future of politics in the Gambia? The book has opened the door for researchers to dissect the rich history of a bustling city and I urge all researchers to answer the siren call of researcher and endeavor to further research on Gambian cities.
This book is an excellent resource to students, educators, and urban scholar enthusiasts and researchers.
Aminata Sillah is an assistant professor in the College of Liberal Arts at Towson University in Towson, Maryland. Her area of expertise is in urban government and politics, public policy, metropolitan studies, leadership and strategic management, with a specialisation in non-profit management and development. Her research interests include local government, leadership, urban studies and nonprofits.